|Courtesy of The Weinstein Company|
2013, 120 minutes
Rated PG-13 for disturbing war images, thematic elements and smoking
Review by Joshua Handler
Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of J.D. Salinger's famed novel, The Cather in the Rye, hates "phonies". He would hate this movie. While it is certainly evident that director/producer Shane Salerno is passionate about his subject, he has made a film so sensationalized, disrespectful, and cheap-looking that it feels like a bad fan documentary that one would find on YouTube stretched out to an eternal 120 minutes.
The film is a look into the life of author J.D. Salinger, a man as famous for writing Catcher as being reclusive. As fascinating as some of the information is, the film itself seems to be more of an idolization of Salinger by a mega-fan than an investigation or biography by a true documentarian.
In Salinger, it is said that Salinger told someone that he was "not a counselor" or anything other than "a fiction writer". Shane Salerno has done a disservice to J.D. Salinger by making a film that plays like a long tabloid article turned into a feature film. Salinger is focused largely on exposing all of Salinger's affairs with younger women and on uninteresting interviews with people who knew him. The film has the feel of a flashy news segment with no integrity meant to draw in viewers more than report the news. We don't get much closer to understanding Salinger than when we started. It is possible to take everything in the film for fact, and much of it is probably true, but so much of it rings false due to the sensationalized style and the film's simplification of Salinger, an obviously complex man.
In addition to being a trashy film, Salinger is at least 100 minutes too long. So much of it feels repetitive, as many images are used multiple times. This is probably due to the lack of a substantial amount of photos and videos of Salinger that exist. A clever filmmaker would have found a way around showing photos multiple times, but Salerno seemed to get lazy and just decided to use the same images over and over, making the film feel like a student slideshow. Additionally, Salerno uses an actor to play Salinger in brief scenes in which Salinger is typing on a stage with images of his life in the background. This makes the film feel cheap. After about 1 hour of this nonsense, I had had more than enough, but the movie kept on going...and going...and going for another hour.
I will say that some segments of the film are interesting, such as those parts where writer Joyce Maynard talks of her time living with Salinger, but this is a small section in a brutally long 2-hour film. This film would have made a potentially interesting 20-minute short, but at 120 minutes, it is painful.
Overall, Salinger is a shameless documentary that is so phony and disrespectful that it is insulting to be categorized as a documentary in a category with films like Stories We Tell and The Act of Killing. Salinger will likely play will with those obsessed with Salinger, but for everyone else, I advise that you stay away.